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The Less Deceived

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Lines 52-54: “For, though I've no idea / What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth, / It pleases me to stand in silence here;” Much that is admirable in the best of [Larkin’s] work is felt [in Collected Poems]: firmness and delicacy of cadence, a definite geography, a mutually fortifying congruence between what the language means to say and what it musically embodies,” asserted Seamus Heaneyin the Observer.The collection contains Larkin’s six previous volumes of poetry as well as 83 of his unpublished poems gleaned from notebooks and homemade booklets. The earliest poems (which reflect the style and social concerns of W.H. Auden) date from his schooldays and the latest close to his death. Writing in the Chicago Tribune Books, Alan Shapiropointed out, “Reading the work in total, we can see how Larkin, early and late, is a poet of great and complex feeling.” Larkin “[endowed] the most commonplace objects and occasions with a chilling poignancy, [measuring] daily life with all its tedium and narrowness against the possibilities of feeling,” adds Shapiro. This was a post-war Britain that had lost its Empire, so Larkin’s The Less Deceived almost reflected a sense of living in an isolated motherland. Indeed, Philip Larkin was a man ambling through life with a ponderous glare, capturing the foibles of modern life through a discerning lens and an overwhelming sense that one’s senses were diminishing. “Monkey-brown, fish-grey, a string of infected circles,” he describes the inside of his mind in If My Darling, “Loitering like bullies, about to coagulate.” Leader, Zachary, ed. The Movement Reconsidered: Essays on Larkin, Amis, Gunn, Davie, and Their Contemporaries. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Throughout his life, England was Larkin’s emotional territory to an eccentric degree. The poet distrusted travel abroad and professed ignorance of foreign literature, including most modern American poetry. He also tried to avoid the cliches of his own culture, such as the tendency to read portent into an artist’s childhood. In his poetry and essays, Larkin remembered his early years as “unspent” and “boring,” as he grew up the son of a city treasurer in Coventry. Poor eyesight and stuttering plagued Larkin as a youth; he retreated into solitude, read widely, and began to write poetry as a nightly routine. In 1940 he enrolled at Oxford, beginning “a vital stage in his personal and literary development,” according to Bruce K. Martin in the Dictionary of Literary Biography.At Oxford Larkin studied English literature and cultivated the friendship of those who shared his special interests, including Kingsley Amis and John Wain. He graduated with first class honors in 1943, and, having to account for himself with the wartime Ministry of Labor, he took a position as librarian in the small Shropshire town of Wellington. While there he wrote both of his novels as well as The North Ship,his first volume of poetry. After working at several other university libraries, Larkin moved to Hull in 1955 and began a 30-year association with the library at the University of Hull. He is still admired for his expansion and modernization of that facility. Larkin wanted to be happy, but was wary because he believed happiness would prove false and fade away. So he adopted a stance of cynical realism, at times even seeming to take a kind of perverse pleasure in melancholy. Keith Sagar, ‘Church Going’ and ‘Wedding-Wind’, in Criticism in Action, ed. Maurice Hussey (London, 1969) p. 126.Osborne, John. Larkin, Ideology and Critical Violence: A Case of Wrongful Conviction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Monica Jones photographed by Philip Larkin on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, 1971. Photograph: Philip Larkin archive Despite his wide popularity, Larkin “shied from publicity, rarely consented to interviews or readings, cultivated his image as right-wing curmudgeon and grew depressed at his fame,” according to J.D. McClatchyin the New York Times Book Review. Phoenixcontributor Alun R. Jones suggests that, as librarian at the remote University of Hull, Larkin “avoided the literary, the metropolitan, the group label, and embraced the nonliterary, the provincial, and the purely personal.” From his base in Hull, Larkin composed poetry that both reflected the dreariness of postwar provincial England and voiced the spiritual despair of the modern age. McClatchy notes Larkin wrote “in clipped, lucid stanzas, about the failures and remorse of age, about stunted lives and spoiled desires.” Critics feel that this localization of focus and the colloquial language used to describe settings and emotions endear Larkin to his readers. Agendareviewer George Dekker noted that no living poet “can equal Larkin on his own ground of the familiar English lyric, drastically and poignantly limited in its sense of any life beyond, before or after, life today in England.” The descriptive passages are universally successful at evoking what they are intended to evoke: over and over, Larkin deftly conjures up a film-reel of vivid images, laid out in a patchwork of faintly bestial Anglo-Saxon monosyllables ("yowl," "spoor," "splay," "fleece," "wade"). When it comes to trying to understand the philosophic passages, on the other hand, I confess I am often lost. On the occasions where I do find Larkin's philosophizing to be both (1) intelligible and (2) non-obvious, the epiphanies that he flashes before my eyes are well worth holding onto: e.g., the idea that good art is a "rough-tongued bell...whose individual sound/Insists I too am individual," or the idea that a church is a place where "all our compulsions meet,/Are recognized, and robed as destinies."

The very first poem in this collection (Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album) presents some of the challenge of Larkin: his writing is beautiful, his observations insightful (“But o, photography! as no art is, / Faithful and disappointing…”), but sometimes he comes across as a bit of an ‘incel’. It’s hard to get on board with the speaker who explains he stole a photo of a woman sunbathing to keep for himself. However, hard as that is (not to mention his other troubling views), there is something brilliant about his writing. The following is the list of 244 poems attributed to Philip Larkin. Untitled poems are identified by their first lines and marked with an ellipsis. Completion dates are in the YYYY-MM-DD format, and are tagged " (best known date)" if the date is not definitive.Larkin, though, was ever detached: a large cool store, you might say. He would not live even in the same city as her and, as all the world knows, he was always cheating. His long affair with Maeve Brennan, his colleague in Hull, caused her particular pain, tipping her, at moments, into madness. But while he could certainly be blithely cruel, as well as cowardly and muddled, there’s no avoiding the fact that Jones preferred half a loaf than no bread at all. Struggling to comprehend this, Sutherland dutifully suggests (he knows the lingo) that Larkin coercively controlled her, a judgment that wilfully ignores the physical distance between them, her financial independence and, above all, her abiding conviction that life was better with Larkin than without him. If the desolate story this tells is extreme, it’s also universal. How little we understand our desires In 1943 Vernon Watkins came to speak at the Oxford English Club. Larkin was present, and the occasion made a tremendous and lasting impression on him. He never cared much for Watkins's own poems, but he liked the man tremendously, and responded to his enthusiasm for Dylan Thomas and, above all, for W. B. Yeats. ‘Impassioned and imperative, he swamped us with Yeats … I had been tremendously impressed by the evening … As a result, I spent the next three years trying to write like Yeats, not because I liked his personality or understood his ideas, but out of infatuation with his music’ ( RW 29). Much of The North Ship almost sounds like a pastiche of Yeats: the poems have little to offer save a clearly derivative music. Not only are they thinner and less interesting than Larkin's mature work; they are arguably less interesting than some of his earlier poems, written when he was still an undergraduate, where the dominant influence is Auden (Auden surfaces again as an influence in the middle stanzas of ‘The Building’, thirty years later). Some of these early sonnets (‘Conscript’, ‘A Writer’, ‘Observation’) could be taken for Auden, whereas such North Ship poems as ‘The moon is full tonight ’ or ‘To write one song, I said’ sound less like Yeats than like imitations of him: even the fact that they have no titles, when we realize how carefully chosen, and how important, the titles of Larkin's mature poems are, may be significant, suggesting that Larkin was quite right when he saw them as based on Yeat 's music rather than his ideas. Mary M. Macdermott, Vowel Sounds in Poetry: Their Music and Tone-Colour (unpublished Ph. D. thesis, University of Glasgow, 1941 ) vol. 1, pp. 17–18.

Lines 42-44: “Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique, / Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff / Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?” Larkin is often described as ‘anti-Modernist’, but some of his poems could also be called ‘anti-Romantic’, e.g. I Remember, I Remember, where he recalls the place he grew up in, where he ‘wasn’t spoken to by an old hat’; and yet there is no bitterness against the place where his childhood was ‘unspent’, for that bitterness would itself be a form of romanticism. Take a look at Larkin's likeness, rendered in both paintings and photograph, in the National Portrait Gallery's six portraits of the poet himself. There is a subtle humour to Larkin’s poetry which is refreshing—there’s a twisted barb for agnostics to be found in the poem Church Going (“superstition, like belief, must die”) and on Coming he even turns William Wordsworth’s notions of the importance of childhood on its head (“I, whose childhood / Is a forgotten boredom”). The influence of John Keats, W.B. Yeats and Thomas Hardy can be seen in the structure of these poems, but also found in that perfect blend of realism and classicist leanings; a stark, observational and literal-minded quality which seemed absent from much of the modernist poetry of its age.Again, that constant strain of alienation insinuates its way into poem after poem. Throughout The Whitsun Weddings, the poet feels himself cut off from his fellow humans, often struggling to retrieve a spirit of community with them, sometimes simply wondering why it is so. The volume, while it represents little change from its predecessor, renders a picture of a man in middle age who feels life passing him by, and who sees more and more clearly the inevitable. Settings are close, small; lives are petty, insignificant; society is filled with graffiti and pollution. In “The Importance of Elsewhere,” he finds comfort in being a foreigner in Ireland, since at least he can explain his estrangement from his fellow inhabitants there. In England, ostensibly at home, he has no such excuse. High Windows The early work of an important poet always has a potential interest, since it is likely to contain anticipations of his later, finer poems; in Larkin's case, however, this interest is limited because of the sharp break in his writing after The North Ship. Lines 38-41: “I wonder who / Will be the last, the very last, to seek / This place for what it was; one of the crew / That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?” The narrator then uses the incident as a starting point from which to launch into a melancholy philosophic meditation on the nature of art, love, death, eternity, etc. In stanzas 3 through 7, Larkin reflects on the fate of churches when people stop going altogether—whether they will become places that people will avoid or seek out because of superstition, or become museums, or be turned to some profane use—and wonders, as well, who will be the last person to come to the church and what his reasons will be. Larkin has a sense, conveyed in a number of poems, that he and his generation of skeptics will be the end of religion in England, and in this poem he wonders about the results of that doubting. The final stanza contains yet another shift, this one rather more subtle.As if the “serious house on serious earth” were forcing the poet to be more serious, he shifts away from his musings about its fate, which are after all only another kind of dismissal, and recognizes instead the importance of the place. He suggests, finally, that the shallowness and disbelief of modern people cannot eradicate the impulse to think seriously and seek wisdom that the Church, however outmoded its rituals, represents. The Whitsun Weddings

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